Ellen Johnson Johnson-Sirleaf Continues to Exhibit Traits of Poor Judgment

Guest Commentary By Tamba D. Aghailas

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Reposted May 31, 2011

The recent gaffe by President Ellen Johnson-Johnson-Sirleaf in appointing Emmanuel Shaw as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Liberia Airports Authority (LAA) may not be the last straw; rather, it highlights consistency in the President’s poor judgment in steering the affairs of a nation struggling to rebuild after a nasty civil war. For those who are unaware of President Sirleaf’s poor decisions that continue to reward an inner-circle of family and friends who allegedly funded her 2005 election campaign, here are highlights:

May 2011

Emmanuel Shaw’s appointment by the President did not only engender criticism by the opposition, but also disappointed the President’s ardent supporters. Under pressure from the public amid a tough re-election season, the President quickly released a press statement withdrawing Shaw's appointment. The statement noted that the President decided to withdraw Mr. Shaw’s appointment because it was brought to her attention that he was under sanction by the United Nations and the United States Government.

UN Security Council Resolution 1521 of 2003 called on member nations, including Liberia to freeze the assets of corrupt former government officials and war financiers, and where possible, return those assets to the people of Liberia. The reality is that the United Nations travel ban list, which includes Messrs. Emmanuel Shaw, Benoni Urey, and other prominent Liberians, has been public information since 2005. In October 2009, the President appointed Mr. Urey as Mayor of Careysburg. Also, several UN Panel of Experts reports have lambasted the Johnson-Sirleaf-led government for failing to implement the UN Security Council Resolution. Amid all of these, President Sirleaf’s claim that she did not know of Mr. Shaw’s name being on the list is absolutely inconceivable.

It is interesting that the President is only now claiming ignorance of the list. Or was she intentionally making another political move in an election year at the expense of Liberians and the spirit of the rule of law? President Sirleaf has consistently blurred the lines in her approach to governing the country when one compares her decisions and actions with those of failed leaders of the past. Each day, this President is becoming more of the same.

April 2011

In April 2011, the President publically called for the arrest and imprisonment of opposition figure, Simeon Freeman, for his plans to organize a massive anti-corruption demonstration against President Sirleaf’s Government. Here again, after a public outcry by the opposition and a warning to the President not to return our country to the dark ages, she quickly retracted her comments and said that it was an “April Fool” joke. For a President of a country where the opposition has experienced countless ordeals of murders and false imprisonment by government officials, the President’s comments were not only insensitive, but also indicated that she was disconnected from the realities of ordinary Liberians.

November 2010

Amidst public outrage as ordinary Liberians struggled to feed their families while government officials take lavish vacations to Europe and to the United States, President Sirleaf fired her entire cabinet or as she put it then, sent them on "administrative leave" only to bring more than 90% of them back. The President chose to rearrange the same people (old wine in new bottles) in different positions. Not only was such a reshuffle in stark similarity to those under the Doe and Taylor administrations, but also the tactic of sending government officials on “administrative leave of absence” was copied directly from the Charles Taylor’s administration.

September 2010

President Johnson-Sirleaf in her usual conversation with the public on the program “Conversation with the President,” responded to a question from a female caller about prostitution. The female caller had raised concern about a FrontPage Africa publication, with the bold banner headline “$5LD FOR SEX.” The concerned citizen was only trying to find out from the President what her government was actually doing to ensure that prostitution was curtailed. Instead of admitting that her government was unable to do anything about prostitution, President Johnson-Sirleaf responded by saying that, “Prostitution is not illegal.” The President went on to say that prostitution was not a crime: “I’m not sure we’ve made it a crime, rape is a crime, not prostitution, but it’s a social concern and we must address it.” Amidst complaints from Liberty Party Women Wing, the Justice Minister later explained that the President was wrong and that she did not know everything. Again, for a woman who understands what prostitution does to a woman's self-esteem, the President’s comments were humiliating to women all over the world, many of whom are sold as sex slaves across nations. Is this lack of judgment a result of bad advice or the President’s inability to appreciate the realities of ordinary Liberians?

January 2010

During her annual message to the Joint session of the Liberian Legislature in January 2010, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf announced her candidacy for re-election in the Chambers of the Joint Assembly of the Legislature - a constitutional forum - in the presence of the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia. Despite her right to seek reelection, President Sirleaf vowed to her supporters back in 2005 that she would not seek reelection. The President chose to break her vow prematurely while performing a constitutional duty before members of the other branches of government. While we do not have a strong and independent legislature to take her to task, this was just another poor judgment by the President.

Finally, to those of you who will be voting in this year's general elections, I urge you to bank your votes on a new team of competent and energetic leaders. This is not the time to trust someone who puts the interests of her inner circle above the interests of the nation. These highlights clearly show that the President’s decision making process is questionable. Are we willing to trust the tedious tasks of reconciliation and development to a President whose decisions are consistently flawed and insensitive? We say “No!” Liberians have an opportunity to set a new course for the country, and that begins with saying “No” to questionable decisions, “No” to insensitivity and “No” to more of the same.

President Sirleaf’s politics and tactics of governance are no different than those of our past leaders. We can no longer wait for papa to come home every day with empty hands. Let's take back our nation and entrust its leadership to patriotic and energetic Liberians who will change the course of Liberia for the betterment of generations to come.